About the Director – the story
Ellen Kaye Gehrke, Ph.D., MBA is Founder/Director Rolling Horse Ranch. She currently works full time as a Professor of Health Sciences in the School of Health and Human Services at National University in San Diego. She is the Director of a Master’s Program in Complementary and Integrative Healthcare and the Founder of The Heart of Horsemanship program for veterans and first responders. She lives in Ramona, California with her horses, dogs, and cats.
Rolling Horse Ranch
Ellen founded Rolling Horse Ranch in 1999 when she and her husband, Carsten, first moved to Ramona, California. The initial focus was to provide a safe home for their growing herd after an incident at a boarding facility motivated them to find a place to care for their horses themselves. She and her husband decided to design the small ranch so it could accommodate intimate horsemanship clinics and be a beacon in the horse community for establishing healthy and safe partnerships with horses.
Building a Reputation in the Horse Industry
In the early years she worked with her long time rancher and horse mentor friend in Montana, Clay Donohoe, to bring safe and reliable ranch horses to California. She wanted her friends and customers to delight in trail riding. She worked hard to partner people with horses to match personality and disposition for a successful experience and riding goals. She often hosted well-known clinicians for natural horsemanship and gentling wild horses. She was active in the BackCountry Horseman Chapter in San Diego and received the Top Hand Award in 2001. She conducted an economic study for the Ramona Chamber of Commerce with the Ramona Trails Association to demonstrate the $24 million-dollar economic impact of the horse industry on the community. This resulted in a committee that fostered the Ramona Equine Industry Network (REIN) of which Dr. Kaye was founding President.
Leadership Training with Horses
However, horses have never been her full-time profession (though she wishes it could be). She supported her horse passion working as a professor of leadership and management. Often her students would come out to the ranch to ride and learn about horses. She noticed that working with horses was a fast-track means for learning about oneself as a personal development experience. When she adopted a wild horse from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) she had a powerful experience that caused her to realize how important managing one’s energy is for building a trusting relationship with her horses and ultimately transmitted to working with people. This shifted her primary focus on the human to one that included the perspective that working and being with horses could provide. Ellen then design a leadership program for her organizational behavior students to come out to the ranch to learn, with the help of her horses, how to be a genuine leader and work effectively across cultures. Her courses were popular and well known around the university. The experience was often described as profound and life-changing by students and those who took her public leadership programs.
Patient Centered Care for the Medical Profession and Other Businesses
She was continually encouraged by colleagues to offer her leadership workshops to businesses and organizations. She still offers these programs to medical doctors, business leaders, biotech companies, and an array of non-profit organization.
A Shift to Research – measuring the human-horse bond
In 2005 she shifted her focus towards more research about the psycho-physiological aspect of the horse-human bond. For several years she partnered with The Heartmath Institute to study the synchronicity between horses and humans as measured via the changes in heart rate variability. The research was considered landmark since most work to this point about the human-horse bond had been anecdotal.(you can review some of this work by reading her papers that are offered on the website)
By now, Ellen and Carsten had twelve horses, two dogs, five cats and full time jobs to attend to. She changed University teaching jobs in 2007 and continued to offer her leadership classes to her students and on-demand to the community. In 2008, she teamed with the UCSD Medical School to develop a course for first-year medical students to help them have direct experience about doctor-patient relationships. Her work was shifting in the direction of healthcare. The ratings of this course was the highest of any elective in the program.
She was contracted to work with San Diego Hospice for a Horses and Healing camp for kids which also proved popular for helping kids heal from loss. Rolling Horse Ranch also became a base to expose people to nature and the outdoor environment. Ellen worked with several at-risk organizations to bring young people to the ranch to learn life skills with the horses. She offered these services free of charge to non-profits.
Incorporating Complementary and Integrative Health
Another path she travelled turned to the integrative and complementary health community. She has Level 4 certification in Healing Touch, Level 1 for Healing touch for Animals, is level o for ayruvedic medicine and is a certified energy medicine professional. She is on the Board of the Alternative Healing Network of San Diego, a member of the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine. She also specializes in providing coaching services with horses for executives and public health professionals
One of the most popular offerings has been her one-on-one coaching. Horses are highly sensitive to human communication and can be generous in their hearts to help people shift their understanding of what they really want in life. (See publication in The International Journal of Nursing Caring)
Tragically and suddenly, due to a medical misdiagnosis by The Cleveland Clinic, her beloved husband, Carsten, died in September of 2010. and Life as Ellen knew it dramatically changed. Coping with the loss caused her to step back from her horses and leadership programs. She realized how sensitive her horses were and how tuned in to her grief they were. She found them helping her more and it became a challenge to work in the way that could help her and others simultaneously. Her animals have helped her through the healing process more than any other counselling assistance.
She reluctantly donated Carsten’s horse, Moses, to a therapeutic riding center for children with autism. His horse is still thriving and helping serve children with autism with the gift of therapeutic riding. She conducted a two-year research project with the riding center, TERI. Results of the research confirmed that therapeutic riding improved symptoms of autism by balancing the autonomic nervous. The results have shown that the more the children ride the more improvement in their autonomic nervous system which helps reduce the stresses and anxiety related to their disorders.
Healing with Horses and Meditation after the Sudden Death of her Husband
Ellen found herself guided along another new path in life – meditation. She took a meditation course from Dharma Ocean at their retreat center in Crestone, Colorado shortly after Carsten’s death. The work has led her on a path that includes a growing commitment to somatic awareness meditation practices. The somatic body work and the love and support of her teachers and mentors unfolded even deeper work with humans and horses. She is currently combining her meditation awareness with her work with horses to write a book, “Cowgirl Buddha.”
Helping Our Veterans
As time healed the pain of the tremendous loss or her life partner, Ellen regrouped and began working with several colleagues to offer a program called the Heart of Horsemanship for veterans. She, her cowboy colleagues and research partners recently collected data in a series of programs that piloted an 8-week program designed to heal veterans and first responders from the pain, trauma, heartbreak and numb hearts that result from experiencing traumatic events. The results far surpassed expectations and the work is currently under review for publication. The program has been so successful, it is now being hosted by the International College of Holistic Studies as part of their offerings for veterans and in the Health Practitioner certifications.
Time Away to Write
Ellen will be on sabbatical July 1 – December 31, 2017 as she works on two books: “Transforming the Lives of Veterans With the Help of Horses, and Cowgirl Buddha, which are stories and lesson learned through the years from her horses.
She can be contacted at e.kayegehrkegmail.com or cell phone:1.760.419.6768